A Distinguished Career

Jun 03, 2019

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While I am not sure about what should change about nursing, I do think nursing is certainly doing something right, as a Gallup poll shows us to be the most trusted profession for the 18th year.

Marguerite R. Kinney Handlin

An AACN past president, professor emerita at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing, a nationally recognized expert in cardiovascular surgical nursing, and an award-winning researcher, Marguerite R. Kinney Handlin has been a guiding light of nursing throughout her career. She’s received the UAB President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, was inducted into the Alabama Nursing Hall of Fame, was honored by the American Heart Association as one of four Pillars in the Field of Cardiovascular Nursing and presented with the Katharine A. Lembright Award for Excellence in Research. And, in 1997, AACN established the Marguerite Rodgers Kinney Award for a Distinguished Career to recognize outstanding careers in nursing.

What led you to become a nurse?

This question makes me take a really long look in my rearview mirror, but I can’t remember ever thinking I wanted to do anything other than nursing. My Aunt Marguerite — for whom I am named — was a leader in her hospital in St. Albans, Vermont, and I recall some of her stories that probably had a big influence on my thinking even at an early age.

What impact has nursing made on you and on the lives of others?

My mother was hospitalized many times while I was growing up, and I saw nurses in action and thought that was a special thing to do. I have loved hearing stories at NTI about the impact critical care nurses have had on so many lives, and you know those accounts have been lived over and over by so many people around the world. Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system, and our impact cannot be underestimated.

How did critical care nursing come into the picture for you?

Critical care units were not part of the typical hospital structure when I became a nursing student in 1957. Therefore, there was no opportunity to have a clinical rotation there, and the closest we came was an assignment in the recovery room. I was very fortunate to arrive in Mobile, Alabama, in 1969, at the same time a cardiac surgical program was being planned, and I was asked to join the team and organize the nursing component. It was a game changer for me, and I was hooked!

I remember nurses at the hospital asking why I would want to take care of critically ill patients, and the answer was always easy: I could know everything (almost) about one or two patients instead of knowing very little about 10 or 20 patients on a typical nursing unit. Also, I recalled an assignment as a nursing student to care for a teenage boy who had been shot in the abdomen in a hunting accident and had a severe case of peritonitis. I was in his room all by myself with a thermometer, a blood pressure apparatus (the old-fashioned kind), my watch for checking his pulse and a urinary catheter. I realized then how little I could know about his condition with what I had to work with, and in our critical care unit we could do so much more than watch and pray.

How has critical care nursing remained unchanged, and what has endured?

While medical interventions and the technology have certainly become more sophisticated, nursing’s focus on the patient and family has remained steadfast. Providing safe, quality care is a goal that will never change.

How did you first learn about AACN?

My introduction to AACN was the 1974 NTI. I had just completed my doctoral studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and moved to Birmingham to join the faculty at UAB and coordinate the graduate program in cardiovascular nursing. Along with some of my students, I went to New Orleans and was literally blown away by being among 2,500 nurses eager to learn and amazing faculty eager to teach. The big topics were heart sounds, rhythm disturbances and lung sounds. Like every NTI I have attended since then, the atmosphere was electric and the opportunities for networking were endless. I knew then that AACN had much to offer me in my teaching and much to offer my students as well.

Was there a specific experience that cemented your relationship with AACN and led you to become actively involved in the association?

A former student nominated me for a position on the board of directors and, while I was very flattered, I never really thought I would be elected. Attending my first board meeting was a real eye-opener into what a special organization this is. I learned that a firm foundation had been put in place by the founders, and the current group of leaders thought the sky was the limit in what AACN could accomplish on behalf of critical care nurses. I certainly wanted to be a part of something with so much promise.

How has your involvement with AACN influenced your professional and personal lives?

My involvement with AACN brought many amazing opportunities that I would not otherwise have had. I traveled broadly both here in the United States and internationally, and learned a great deal from those I met. I was introduced to the world of book and journal publishing, which was a large part of my professional life for a long time.

But the best thing about being a part of AACN was and still is the people I met along the way who shared the passion about the association’s opportunities to impact how care is delivered to our patients. It makes me very proud that four of my graduate students found such a passion for AACN that they are now former presidents of the association, and three others were elected to the board of directors.

What values come to mind when you think of AACN?

AACN’s core values reflect its history, tradition and culture, and include ethical accountability in everything the association undertakes — grooming the next generation of leaders, collaboration with all its stakeholders and innovation in its approach to doing business. These values have served the association well over the past 50 years and will continue to guide AACN into the next 50 years.

Were you surprised to have an award named for you?

I remember as though it was yesterday receiving the phone call from my friend and colleague Ramón Lavandero telling me that the board of directors had just created an award to recognize outstanding careers in nursing and healthcare, and that the award would be named for me, and I was to be the first recipient. Overwhelmed would be a gross understatement. I am truly humbled by this recognition, especially as I have witnessed the incredible recipients of this award over the years and their considerable influence on the healthcare landscape.

Using your magic wand, what would you change about nursing today?

While I am not sure about what should change about nursing, I do think nursing is certainly doing something right, as a Gallup poll shows us to be the most trusted profession for the 18th year.

What message do you have for young nurses today?

I continue to say to young nurses what I have said for many years: “You have so much to offer in your professional and personal lives because of your preparation for becoming a nurse. You have developed skills in planning, critical thinking, communication, negotiation, leadership and so much more. Think about ways you can offer what you have learned, and you will be surprised how many opportunities you can think of.”

If you’re talking with a nursing student or a new nurse, what would you tell them about acute/critical care nursing and AACN?

I recently sat next to a nursing student at a luncheon here in Birmingham and had an opportunity to introduce her to AACN, and I encouraged her to put attending an NTI on her bucket list because of the incredible learning opportunities as well as the networking possibilities and the energy and enthusiasm she would take back home with her. I also encouraged her to join a chapter wherever her practice takes her to continue her professional development.

What do you like to do in your spare time or as a hobby?

I have found new things to do in retirement that I enjoy very much. I belong to a garden club, assist with creating the altar flower arrangements at my church, belong to a knitting group fondly known as the Knit Wits, volunteer with community groups, enjoy my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, continue as a staunch supporter of Auburn football and basketball, and travel with my husband, Harry, who introduced me to the idea of mystery trips. Each year, we alternate planning a trip where the other one doesn’t know where we are going until we get there. It is a lot of fun, and we have enjoyed many great excursions both in the United States and abroad.